In Ikebana, also known as the Japanese art of flower arranging, the blossoms, leaves, stems, and branches are used for making floral art. This is a floral practice in Japan that is practiced since ancient times up to this day.
Spreading the influence of Ikebana to the Western countries has been a great contribution to its survival. However, the current generation of practitioners of this art is reinterpreting Ikebana based on the practice’s core principles, rather than on its traditional mores. And while Ikebana has evolved over time, reflecting different eras and influences, it is still a practice molded by its rules, along with different elements and styles, and has especially been a great part of the Japanese culture.
Ikebana as Part of the Japanese Culture
Ikebana, which translates to “living flowers” or “making flowers alive”, is the Japanese art of flower arranging. It has been described as being at once more subtle, more sensitive, and more sophisticated than the methods typically used in other cultures to arrange flowers. This is so because, in Japan, Ikebana is an art, in the same way as painting and sculpture are considered as arts elsewhere.
It is believed that the origins of Ikebana in Japan are traced back to either the rituals of the native Shinto religion or to a tradition of making floral offerings in Buddhism, which was introduced from China in the 6th century. There are several schools of Ikebana, where different styles are available, depending on the school, the plants, and the vase used.
Ikebana has also been called a respectable accomplishment. Many of the most celebrated generals in Japan have been masters of this practice, finding it to have a calming effect to their minds and made their decisions clear in the field of battle. Warriors like Hideyoshi and Yoshimasa, two of the most prominent generals in ancient Japan, find value in Ikebana practice, showing that it is an important training event for the masculine mind.
Elements of the Ikebana Arrangement
The meaning of the flower takes on a whole new life in Ikebana. It’s not only about the plants, but all the rest, including the container, and even the space not occupied by the flowers. As such, emphasis is placed on mixed materials, which is another example of Ikebana’s focus on expressing the beauty of all natural world components working in harmony. Besides fresh flowers and foliage, there are three important elements that any Ikebana artist should have at hand to make simple arrangements:
- Vases and Containers
Ikebana containers are available in many types, but glass, ceramic, and bamboo-lined baskets are common choices. It also depends on the type of Ikebana style being practiced, and the plant materials used, whether the vase and container is tall, narrow, or very shallow.
Kenzan means “flower frog” in Japanese. This refers to a set of pins that hold the flower and plant stem in place, either connected to a flat disk or mat. It is considered as the Japanese substitute for floral foam. In Ikebana designs, which use shallow containers, Kenzan is especially important. Small decorative stones or marbles are used in transparent vases or in shallow containers to conceal the Kenzan.
- Scissors or Shears
Traditional Ikebana scissors have large teardrop-shaped handles and sturdy thick blades, which are suitable for clean slicing through thick twigs or snipping delicate blooms. Some Ikebana artists use floral wire to tie together or to support spindly flower stems.
The early Buddhist floral decorations were meant to symbolize the idealized beauty of the afterlife, and as a result, they were generally both ornate and sumptuous. In Rikka or “standing flowers”, which is considered as the first Ikebana style, the same qualities were retained that aimed not so much at revealing the beauty of the flowers, but at using flowers to represent an exalted idea of the cosmos.
The distinctive feature of the Nageire, or “thrown-in flowers” arrangement, was that the flowers were not rendered by artificial means to stand erect, but were permitted to rest in the vase naturally. It is distinguished by a tight bundle of stems forming a triangular asymmetrical arrangement of three branches, which was considered classic.
The interplay between Rikka and Nageire by the end of the eighteenth century created a new style of flower arrangement called Seika, which literally means “pure flowers”. Seika is composed of three main sections, known in some schools as ten (heaven), chi (earth), and jin (human). It is a simple style, designed to display the plant’s own beauty and uniqueness.
The Moribana or “piled-up flowers” category of Ikebana has developed as a way of producing a more three-dimensional sculpted appearance through the use of natural plants. The flowers are mounted on a Kenzan or on pointed needle holders (also known as metal frogs), in a shallow vase, compote vessel, or basket.
- Contemporary Ikebana
The concept and design of classic flower arrangements, such as Rikka and Seika, continue to be central, but the use of a number of materials not traditionally seen in Ikebana has led to modern tastes. It isn’t confined to flowers, which means that every material can be used, even fruits. With the rise of modernism in the 20th century, the three schools of Ikebana partly gave way to what is widely known as “Free Style” in Japan.
Flower arrangement has always been seen as a way of putting mankind and nature together. All living arts, including Ikebana, changes and is constantly influenced by culture and the times. The awareness and focus of people today, in a time where environmental and ecological destruction is now clearer than ever, is what makes Ikebana especially important. It is truly a beautiful way to make art out of flowers that have withstood the test of time.